"An honest confession is good for the soul, but bad for the reputation." — Thomas Dewar
"If all hearts were open and all desires known—as they would be if people showed their souls—how many sighs, clenched fists, knotted brows, broad grins and red eyes should we see in the marketplace!" — Thomas Hardy
Kleenex recently began a new marketing campaign. The advertisements created for this effort are simple, yet moving. Picture a man positioning a couch in the middle of the park. His chair is positioned adjacent to the couch while a small table rests in front of the furniture. A solitary box of tissues is situated on the table. As traffic and pedestrians dot the landscape, men and women take a seat and share what’s on their minds. Many tell stories of jubilation, mopping an eye through tears of laughter. In a recent video, a resident of New Orleans speaks of her family’s desire to live closer to one another. And then hurricane Katrina arrived. Her family, like millions more, have been displaced across the United States. But she has returned home. And as the tears begin to cascade down her cheek, she is determined, vigilant to watch the city embraced by many, shunned by many, regain a sense of normalcy.
This commercial, along with a handful of others, communicates profound spiritual depth. In the truest sense of the word, respondents are engaging with confession, sharing deep and emotional thoughts with another. What drives them to do this? Perhaps it is a catharsis, a release of confined anxiety, fear, hope, euphoria. Perhaps it is the release of a heavy burden—a welcome celebration of dropped psychological shackles. It has become clear to me that confession is a wonderful and dangerous element of life. Blunt honesty propels us to live without fear. But as we share revelations with others, the perception of what they think can be a haunting thought.
But I believe the benefits of confession trump the costs. In fact, I spent some time researching confession on the web recently, curious what content existed. Through this process of perusing websites, I discovered numerous stories about heartbreak and anxiety, fear and failure, lust and hatred, depression and anger. And yet these words can be captured in one; this word is the quintessential essence of society, a word tucked away, ignored and suppressed, a word of deep humility when uttered: broken. I am broken. We are broken. Each of us have skeletons in the closet, baggage we shoulder on a daily basis.
I wish to elaborate on two perceptions that emerge when confession is practiced. The first is simple, done on a daily basis, verbally, but generally unconsciously: judgment. No one escapes this tendency, examining the failures and vices of others. We measure ourselves against one another and take false pride in the mistakes we have not made, the poor choices we have avoided that others have succumbed to. The second perception is a paradox, a term I describe as "solemn joy." Individuals who live by this principle understand this: "I am thankful for the poor choices I have avoided." What underscores this statement is pivotal and of immense importance: the recognition that we are never, for one moment, immune to giving in to enticement, poor choices, complete failure and moral depravity.
A life guided by this second mindset erases the likelihood of judgment. The playing field has been leveled; no one is better than another. While many of us have made fewer mistakes than others, avoided episodes of deep scarring pain, awareness of failure is deeply humbling. But it should not lead to fear, a mind consumed with the possibility of pain, regret, breakdown. A life guided by this mindset leads us to the antithesis of broken: hope. Hope is a reminder that while we all have spotted backgrounds, we stand together, eager to make the right decision this time. Hope pleads to a divine presence, a presence many believe is God, "I am broken. Fix me!" In the era of the instantaneous, we seek a quick remedy, a supernatural cure for all our ills and shortcomings. But what if the struggle never ceases? Do we truly want it to? Will we grow in character if it does?
Paul outlines a struggle, a "thorn" he works to overcome in his own life. Frustrated, he asks God to simply remove it, to take away the difficulty it creates. But God refuses. He encourages Paul to grow, overcome this burden daily if necessary. Brokenness leads to weakness, emotionally and physically. And in this moment, having exhausted all resources, all energy, we call for help, rescue, restoration—and it arrives. Truthfully, I am not sure at times why it does—I have not earned redemption. No merits or goodwill have justified me. Humanity is a mess, both charming and deplorable. Incidentally, I am reminded of Bruce Almighty. As the film draws to a close, God, portrayed by Morgan Freeman, shares true wisdom with the protagonist, Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey). The two have just finished mopping the floor, and Freeman looks down at the finished work, remarking, "No matter how filthy something gets, you can always clean it right up."
Confession acknowledges this statement. And it leads us to a place of freedom, the joy that comes in knowing our character is always being refined, polished, cleaned. No one is righteous. Identifying with other’s failures leads us all to healing, the realization we don’t have it all together. And as we discover this, as we are healed, as the scratches are covered, a fresh state of mind emerges: we can do better. Repeated failure begs this question: will I miss the mark the next time and recognize where I went wrong? Will I be aware of the warning signs? While I cannot answer for you, I have discovered the dire importance of these questions. They lead me to avoiding past mistakes and preparing myself for future enticements. They lead me to a place of sustained spiritual growth. And while there is no doubt I will fall down again, I understand that failure facilitates true wisdom.
Many of us respond to the proverbial question "How are you?" with one word—"fine." "Fine" may be the most boring, trite word in the English language. I will never respond with it again. It is a mask, a front to hide our true emotional state. Deep friendships are guided by deeper responses. With this in mind, tell someone who asks exactly how you feel the next time this question is raised. The two of you may be retreating to a room momentarily to spend additional minutes in conversation, ruminating on brokenness and restoration. Savor it. Let it out. And grab a Kleenex if necessary.